- Bill Finley
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Way back in November I pegged Normandy Invasion as the horse to beat in the Kentucky Derby, ranking him No. 1 in an ESPN.com column that probably looked pretty foolish at the time. Not only was he coming off a loss in the Remsen but trying to pick the Kentucky Derby winner in May is hard enough, let alone in November.
But the same horse I picked November 24 will be the horse I pick on May 4.
Normandy Invasion ran a big race in the Wood Memorial when finishing second behind Verrazano. He didn't get a bad trip, but neither did he get a great trip. The pace was slow and Verrazano, after stalking an 80-1 shot, inherited the lead at the top of the stretch. At that point, he had a three-length edge on Normandy Invasion, which proved to be insurmountable. Normandy Invasion closed well and shot by the previously undefeated Vyjack for the place.
"I'm very proud of the horse," rider Javier Castellano said afterward. "He did an amazing run. This is the first time I rode him, and he made a huge run. One more jump, and I could have won the race. His gallop out was amazing; I had trouble pulling him up. That's a great feeling when you're looking at the big picture and the Kentucky Derby."
The problem with Normandy Invasion is that he never wins one of these things, and maybe he's a sucker horse. I originally became enamored with him because he closed well into a slow pace in the Remsen and looked like a horse who hadn't quite put it together yet mentally. Yet, he lost that race. Next up was a horrible trip in the Risen Star and another loss. He ran well in the Wood Memorial but not well enough to win. For all the promise he has shown he's still only won one race, a maiden in November.
He needs to finally put it all together but he seems to be on the precipice of doing just that. The Kentucky Derby isn't won in March or April. Certainly, Todd Pletcher can attest to that. It's won by a horse who has the quality and hits his peak form on Derby Day. Normandy Invasion still looks like a horse that is only going to get better.
Can he finally bust out in the Kentucky Derby? I'll be betting that he will.
Delta hits the jackpot: Despite losing its status as an automatic win-and-you're-in race for the Kentucky Derby because of the new points system the Delta Jackpot looks like it is going to produce three Derby starters. Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents heads the list along with Louisiana Derby runner-up Mylute and Holy Bull winner Itsmyluckyday.
Meanwhile, there is not a single Breeders' Cup Juvenile starter in the Top 20 among the Derby points leaders and if Dynamic Sky doesn't step up and run well in the Blue Grass it's likely that not a single horse out of the Juvenile will make the Derby. Horses that ran in the Juvenile have gone 2 for 18 since with the only stakes win coming from Dynamic Sky, who won the Pasco at Tampa Bay Downs.
Magificent Oaks: Might the Kentucky Derby be the second best race run during the week at Churchill Downs? The Kentucky Oaks is shaping up as one of the best races you'll ever see. Beholder, Emollient and Close Hatches won big preps over the weekend and all three could be joined in the gate by Unlimited Budget, Midnight Lucky and, of course, Dreaming Of Julia. She is coming off a sensational 21 3/4-length win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. It will be an amazing assemblage of 3-year-old filly talent.
Pre-race security: The horses for both the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby were subject to the type of intense security measures that are never in place for ordinary races. The idea is to go the extra mile so that no one gets away with giving something to their horses to gain an advantage.
In hindsight, those races made the trainers involved look as honest as they come. If a horse had been juiced in prior races but was forced to run clean Saturday it would make sense that they would take a major step backward, and that didn't happen.
Both races were as formful as can be and there really wasn't a single horse that didn't perform up to expectations or at least come close to expectations.